07 June 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, June 8 – Their fathers are sworn enemies but Marina Mahathir and Nurul Izzah Anwar, having both come into their own as adults and opinion leaders, are today quite comfortable sitting side by side for coffee and a chinwag.

One a well-known civil rights leader and the other an influential politician in a party advocating justice for the people, there have been many times when both women found themselves sharing the same stage as they preached their respective causes.

Marina and Nurul Izzah also share another thing in common – their fathers, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, were once a tag team in the government, when Dr Mahathir was prime minister and Anwar his deputy, the country’s two most prominent positions.

Dr Mahathir was Malaysia’s fourth and longest-serving prime minister, a post he held for 22 years from 1981 to 2003.

His bitter rivalry with Anwar started in the late 1990s when Anwar started taking bolder steps to assert his presence as the prime minister-in-waiting – moves that many have said had caused his 1998 sacking and six-year jail term following charges of corruption and sodomy.

In the twists and turns of their fathers’ political careers spanning over three decades now, Marina and Nurul Izzah found themselves forced into the spotlight many times, and are sometimes expected to be apologetic for the actions of their fathers.

The women, in a joint interview published in Clive Magazine’s June edition, agree that being in the spotlight and always facing public judgment, is what they share in common.

But Marina appears to express disdain for this, saying it gets “tiring” to be constantly talked about in reference to her parents.

“I get really annoyed when people throw the ‘blood is thicker than water’ argument at me,” she says in the interview published verbatim.

“I don’t care what anyone says about my dad, they’re entitled to their own opinions but if it is truly unfair, I will say something.

“When I get the ‘blood is thicker than water’ routine, it’s like ‘I got no brains, is it?’” she adds.

Nurul Izzah notes her acceptance of always having to face the court of public opinion.

“After some time, you just stop thinking about what people think because there’s nothing I can do to change that,” she tells Clive Magazine.

Asked if she had ever had to distance herself from her father in order to carve her own name, Nurul Izzah, who is vice-president of PKR, a party in which her father is the de facto leader and her mother, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the president, says: “Sometimes you do things because it’s right.

“You should be comfortable and accept that this is my father. It’s important because it has shaped me into who I am today.”

According to the women, one of the best advice their fathers have given them as they were growing up appear to be the same: to remain true to themselves.

Marina says the advice from Dr Mahathir came when she was about to be sent off to the United States after Form Five to stay with an American family whom they had hosted when she was 16.

“... before I left he had to give me the talk,” Marina recalls.

“You’re going over there, it’s a different culture but we are who we are,” she says, quoting her father.

“Also ‘to remain true to yourself’. That’s always been something I kept close to me,” she adds.

Nurul Izzah recalls that Anwar had advised her to stay true to her roots and appreciate local culture when she refused to watch the staging of Raja Lawak, a local production.

“During that period I was very interested in English Literature and he said, ‘You must always stay true and appreciate your local culture as well as English lit’.

“He was really giving me a huge lecture, and, of course, I was dragged to Raja Lawak, but I enjoyed myself,” she said.

The women were also asked to relate the biggest misconceptions about their fathers.

Marina reveals that her father, the man often credited for putting Malaysia on the world map, apart from being the country’s longest-serving prime minister, is “extremely shy”.

“He doesn’t know how to socialise or make small talk. His idea of a nightmare is a cocktail party (which is also mine) because he doesn’t know how to be social.

“When it comes to work, talking about policies – all possible. Chit chat? No go,” she tells Clive Magazine.

Nurul Izzah, on the other hand, disproves criticisms against Anwar as being a man too hungry for ambition and success.

“If you know him, he means well. He does what his heart tells him to do and this is something not everyone sees. Of course, as a daughter I see it,” she says.

Anwar now leads the federal opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and has often been accused of being power-hungry.

The leader had his sights set on finally claiming his place in Putrajaya as the prime minister but his hopes were dashed when PR lost the polls on May 5 this year, despite winning the popular vote.

Dr Mahathir, despite having exited politics in 2003, turned active again in the months leading up to Election 2013, using his influence in the ruling Umno and as the nation’s former number one to help Barisan Nasional (BN) retain federal power.

The federal opposition and much of the civil society movement in Malaysia, where Marina is a known leader, have been criticising Dr Mahathir for his campaign tactics, some accusing the leader of using racism to win votes for BN.

But both Nurul Izzah and Marina, despite acknowledging their fathers’ public critics, say they would do their best to make sure their grandchildren know who their great grandfather was and what he was like.

“I would try telling them everything. I would say he was someone who tried hard to do what he could for his country and not everyone agreed with his methods but that’s what he had to do,” says Marina.

Says Nurul Izzah: “I would tell them that their great grandfather was a very principled, courageous man despite the worst fears we had. He just decides to do things because he believes in them.”


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